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As a senior-level executive with 18 years running marketing for companies such as Martha Stewart Living and Hello Sunshine, Kerry Tucker has envisioned, built and launched just about every stripe of publicity effort you could name. But there was one that had always eluded her: a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
It wasn’t simply that the department store limits the number of large character balloons to 16. And it wasn’t just the cost of the balloon itself (reportedly around $200,000 to make and another $500,000 to fill with helium, never mind the cost of insurance, handlers and all the rest). The biggest hurdle was meeting Macy’s criteria: successfully making the case that a proposed balloon will be instantly recognizable to a global audience and also suited to a family-friendly event.
“This was never a marketing opportunity that had presented itself to me,” Tucker told Adweek. “I was the CMO for Victoria’s Secret—and that balloon was never going to happen. So this was a great opportunity all around.”
The opportunity Tucker’s talking about is a deal that her current company, Pocket.Watch, recently inked with Macy’s. It will result in the parade’s newest big balloon, Red Titan who, at 51 feet long, 28 feet wide and 42 feet tall, will soar over the streets of New York next month when the store sponsors its 94th annual Thanksgiving Day fete.
Things will look and feel different this year, of course, given that the coronavirus pandemic has forced Macy’s to put the kibosh on a live audience. But Tucker is not worried the brand may not get its money’s worth. Indeed, she’s feeling fortunate that Ryan’s World made the cut to be in the parade in the first place, a feat that even a kid superhero like Red Titan would have used every muscle to achieve.
If you’re not familiar with Red Titan, it’s probably because you’re not 8 years old or don’t have kids who are. He’s the superhero alter ego of a kid in Texas named Ryan Kaji, who began putting toy-unboxing videos on YouTube at age 3 and, with subsequent help from his parents, is now the lead in Ryan’s World, a loud and frenetic channel featuring Ryan and his family doing kid-type stuff such as telling ghost stories, making colorful pancakes and using the family swimming pool to explain how tsunamis form. Three years ago, the family (whose last name is actually Guan) retained Pocket.Watch to extend their brand into the non-YouTube realm, including licensed merchandise and a Nick Jr. series called Ryan’s Mystery Playdate.
Some parents have expressed qualms about Ryan’s World, charging that it teaches consumerism to children under 5 by pushing name-brand toys beneath a very thin veneer of educational content. “I have deleted YouTube Kids from my child’s device because he was beginning to think that all families live like this,” said one parent on Common Sense Media, “[namely] thousands of dollars’ worth of new toys every week, parents who play with them 24/7, hours at arcades, Disney, etc.”
Objections aside, however, there’s no denying Ryan’s reach: His YouTube channel has 27 million subscribers, and Ryan’s lifetime views come in somewhere around 56 billion.
So when it came time for Tucker to convince Macy’s that Red Titan would be a recognizable character with staying power, she had the goods. But the sell still wasn’t easy, and not just because Tucker had to fly from Culver City, Calif., to New York several times for meetings. There was, simply put, no precedent for a balloon quite like this.